Any brand worth its PMS colors knows that it takes multiple touchpoints to engage consumers and create a loyal following. And you may be thinking that most of those touchpoints today are e-driven, because we certainly live in a digital world. Many industry experts believe that the rise in e-commerce and online omnipotence has caused everything from the demise of retail giants such as Sears and ToysRUs to the rise of a new breed of retailers without walls, such as Dollar Shave Club and ThirdLove.
But as a design strategist and consultant to hundreds of brands, I know for a fact that brands cannot – and do not – live by digital alone. The multiple touchpoints of an omnichannel marketing campaign must tap into our senses beyond the screen. They must include a secret weapon. That secret weapon is print.
After a decade of hearing ‘print is dead’ (it wasn’t) brand owners and marketers are touting it as a crucial piece of the brand puzzle known as omnichannel marketing. Or, as Forbes recently called it, ‘harmonized retail.’
Omnichannel marketing includes a cohesive combination of messaging: direct mail pieces, email campaigns, a website, an app, signage, social media, live events, brochures, pop-up stores – you name it. It’s really omni-storytelling, designed to evoke an emotional connection with consumers. And that is print’s sweet spot, with its ability to engage all of our senses in a way that content on a screen can’t.
Print is tactile, with its substrates and magical inks and embosses and foil and sheen. It enables brands to communicate touch, sight, smell and even sound (the turning of a page, the ripping open of an envelope) so a brand’s message meets the different ways that different people remember and catalog information.
Print also helps give a brand substance. We all know ultra-successful digitally-native brands that are seemingly born overnight. But what separates the real players from the pretenders? A website? Sure. A logo? Ok. How about a business card? Isn’t that still a litmus test for credibility? Apparently so. According to Small Business Trends, 72 percent of people judge a person based on the quality of their business cards. Thirty-nine percent would choose not to do business with a company if they had a ‘cheap-looking’ business card. Packaging could be viewed as a brand’s calling card; done right, it delivers both heft and credibility.
The retailer’s site vs the retailer’s shelf
One of the most obvious examples of print’s weaponry is consumer packaging disrupters such as Amazon, eBay and Boxed, who are selling millions of products and not one of them from a retail shelf. While these disrupters have radically changed buying behavior, the brands they sell are relying even more on print – specifically packaging – as a differentiator.
A brand’s packaging on a retailer’s website serves a different purpose than its packaging on a retailer’s shelf. The packaging that customers see on online needs to look the same as when it arrives at their homes. Otherwise customers begin to question the quality and authenticity of the product.
Imagine you ordered a luxury cosmetic item online. One thing that attracted you to the product is the way it looked. Maybe it was finished with foil or had a clean, refined look. If the package that arrives on your doorstep doesn’t have that same luxury style – if the paperboard is flimsy, or there’s no branding on the box – you’re suddenly not sure if the product is genuine or even safe. Once again, print matters.
You’ll notice that I’m not advocating for print as a standalone powerhouse. Print works best when it’s a fully integrated part of the whole campaign.
In fact, print is an impressive portal back to its digital campaign counterparts. You take a picture of a specially-designed image on a package and it leads you to a campaign landing page. Or it takes you to an augmented reality experience. Or it captures your information and saves you time when you’re ready to repurchase.
When brands fully employ a print strategy within their omnichannel marketing plan and treat it with the same importance as their content marketing, social media strategy and e-everything, they’re creating a more seamless purchasing path. A more memorable moment. A more engaging experience. One that feels cohesive and intentional.
One might even say harmonic.